Analysis: Did Donald Trump risk infecting others, and what is the impact on the US elections?

The news that Donald Trump has tested positive for Covid-19 is a bombshell, even in a year as frantic as 2020. Mr Trump must now endure the most serious health threat faced by a sitting US president in decades, and the repercussions reach around the world.

Friday, 2nd October 2020, 12:20 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd October 2020, 3:24 pm
President Donald Trump gives the thumbs up as he returns to the White House from his New Jersey golf resort on Thursday. Picture: Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Donald Trump gives the thumbs up as he returns to the White House from his New Jersey golf resort on Thursday. Picture: Carolyn Kaster/AP

As well as impacting on the US elections, which are just 33 days away, the development raises questions about his actions and responsibilities. Here are some of the key issues:

Did Trump flout Covid-19 regulations?

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It appears so. According to reports in the US, some in the White House knew by Wednesday evening that Hope Hicks, a counsellor to the president, was showing symptoms consistent with Covid-19.

The letter from Donald Trump's physician confirming the positive Covid-19 test result.

She has been in close proximity to Mr Trump in recent days, accompanying him to Tuesday’s televised debate in Ohio with Joe Biden – who is to be tested today - then joining him on Air Force One to attend a Minnesota rally on Wednesday.

It is understood Ms Hicks tested negative for Covid-19 on Wednesday morning, but developed symptoms during the day. She took a second test, which came back positive on Thursday morning. But some officials in the White House knew about her symptoms and likely diagnosis on Wednesday evening.

At either juncture, it is inconceivable that Mr Trump himself was not informed that one of his closest aides had contracted the virus, yet he chose to travel to his New Jersey resort on Thursday afternoon.

This decision flies in the face of guidelines laid down by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that individuals exposed to a person with confirmed Covid-19 should not travel for 14 days.

While at his Bedminster resort, Mr Trump took part in a round-table with supporters before joining a campaign fundraising event. Both were held indoors, and it is unclear what social distancing measures were in place. But an email sent by the Trump campaign to supporters promised one raffle-winner would be able to pose for a picture with the president. It is unclear if that photo opportunity went ahead.

Mr Trump’s visit was brief. Air Force One touched down at Morristown Airport at 2:07pm and departed at 4.40pm. Even so, questions around who he came into contact with, and why he travelled, are growing.

It is worth remembering he has largely spurned mask-wearing, and has often been pictured not socially distancing with his aides or others. As well as those who were at Bedminster, a vast contact tracing effort is underway to determine who else has been in contact with him.

What are the repercussions for the US and November’s election?

The ramifications of Mr Trump’s test result cannot be understated, and could throw a crowbar in the gears of government.

US stock futures have fallen, and with disruption in global markets, all eyes are on Wall Street opening. For a candidate who has made the economy one of the linchpins of his campaign, Mr Trump could be hurt in more ways than one by the virus.

The issue of who will be at the helm of the world’s biggest economies if he becomes too ill has also come into sharp focus. In that scenario, vice-president Mike Pence would be placed in charge. If he too became incapacitated, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is most likely to take over.

With regard to the election, Mr Trump’s health status is no less disruptive. Even if he experiences only mild symptoms, he will almost certainly be unable to attend rallies in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Florida and Arizona. The chances of him attending the next presidential debate, scheduled for 15 October in Miami, are also increasingly remote.

Much depends on how unwell he becomes. Under the CDC guidelines, people who have tested positive and are symptomatic must self-isolate for at least ten days. That period doubles for those who become severely ill.

In terms of the polls, some swing voters may rally behind Mr Trump as he recovers. On the other hand, any sympathy is countered by the fact his positive test result confirms the absurdity of his insistence that an end to the pandemic is in sight, and it further exposes his cavalier handling of the crisis.

In coming days, expect the White House to also come under scrutiny for how it dealt with Mr Trump’s positive result.

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The press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who had been in contact with Ms Hicks, held a White House briefing on Thursday - while eschewing a face mask - and made no mention of Ms Hicks’ diagnosis. And just two hours before confirming he was positive, Mr Trump told Fox News he and his wife were awaiting test results. That claim will come under examination.

What are Mr Trump and his doctors saying?

In a tweet sent shortly before 6am, Mr Trump confirmed he and the first lady, who has also tested positive, would begin quarantining, adding with characteristic bombast: “We will get through this TOGETHER!”

In a statement, his physician, Dr Sean Conley, said Mr Trump and his wife were "both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence”. He said he expected the president to “continue carrying out his duties without disruption”.

We do not know when Mr Trump was infected, by whom, or when he may become symptomatic. According to the World Health Organisation, it takes five or six days on average from when someone is infected until symptoms show, but it can take up to 14 days.

What is clear is that, irrespective of his strongman tendencies, Mr Trump is at risk. He is 74, an age-group where people are five times more likely to be hospitalised, and 90 times more likely to die than somebody in their twenties, according to the CDC.

And based on Mr Trump’s most recent physical examination - where he weighed 244lb - he is considered to be obese.

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